I can be a very forgiving anime viewer, though one place I’ve often shown my brutality is at the start of a show. A good beginning or at least one that gets you interested, is obviously very important in any form of media, and bad beginnings have ruined a lot of shows chances at becoming popular. Usually, I will drop a show early on while it’s airing if the early episodes are bad, and pick it up again later based on what I read about the show as a whole. For example, I (in possibly one of my cruelest acts against a show) dropped both Vampire Knight and Toshokan Sensou within fifteen minutes of their first episodes. Had the final verdicts on both come in green, I would have continued wither, but most people gave me the general impression that neither was worthwhile. On the opposite side of the spectrum, there have been plenty of times that i dropped a show and, after hearing good reviews, picked it back up and loved it. A Good recent example of this is Blood+ which i had initially dropped after seeing an episode on Adult Swim, but after Shiro’s good review I gave it another try and it was well worth it.
Recently, a few shows were brought to my attention which I had dropped or put on hold that have been brought to my attention again. One was Mars Daybreak, which someone I know said gets really good a few episodes in, and I had dropped it after an incredibly bland first episode. Another which I know I need to watch is Terra e which I had only skimmed the first episode of an not bothered with. And then, finally, there was Nanoha. I’m sure all of you have read my Fuck Nanoha post a little down the page which I wrote after episode 3 was easily one of THE worst episodes of anime I’ve ever seen. Ironically, a thread was started in Megatokyo’s forums no more than 2 days later announcing the first season’s box set release. No shortage of people who’s opinions I greatly trust, who introduced me to most of the anime I know and love, who’s blogs I read, who agree with me often, endorsed the show. Most prominent among them was Random_Wanderer – I honestly should have been more careful because R_W has led me astray before, however when even the almighty Omoikane wasn’t saying anything bad about the show, I figured it was time to finish it up. I did, and now I wrote a review for it.
Mahou Shoujo Lyrical Nanoha
It should first be noted that on paper, Nanoha looks like something I would fall head over heals in love with. While I’m not a major shoujo fan, I have been known to enjoy the occasional title, and even in the subcategory of mahou shoujo I’ve found love in the form of Cardcaptor Sakura. More importantly, though, this show is all about little girls kicking high levels of ass, which is always great. The director, Akiyuki Shinbo, Is by far my alltime favorite director, and I’ve made a point to check out all of his work. Even the shows I’ve seen of his which wouldn’t ordinarily appeal to me are worth watching just to see his directing style in use. The show is extremely popular, too, and while my preferences do tend to lean out into the obscure, I have been known to enjoy no shortage of mainstream-appealing anime. Generally, I keep to the idea that if an anime can succeed in even one area, it is worth watching.
However, in spite of every sign pointing in the opposite direction, Nanoha was easily one of the most haphazard, generic, poorly made, and downright boring anime I’ve ever had the displeasure of watching to completion. To put it simply, if someone asked me how NOT to go about making an anime, I would point directly at Nanoha.
I had a bone to pick with Nanoha from very early on. Episode three was honestly one of the worst episodes of anime I’ve ever seen, and since I watched it quite some time after the first two, I didn’t know what to expect. I remembered the plot of the first two episodes well enough, however details like the animation and sound were a blur. When I came back to the show, the first jarring bit was Nanoha herself’s voice. Her voice actress, Yukari Tamura, has done plenty of perfectly fine roles, but in this case her voice was completely unbearable. Luckily the rest of the cast was fine, but Nanoha talks and narrates through most of the episode, so her voice comes in torrents. Adding to that, the character designs were hideous. Every character has what I have come to refer to as the ‘hair swell’ wherein depending on the way a character is facing, a large part of one side of their hair swells up, as seen in this image.
I have no idea why animators do this. It might be a trick of the trade, or perhaps they just think it looks good, but I find it hideously ugly. One of the images that stood out strongly to me was of three girls sitting together on a bench, and only their heads were in the screen, with sky making up the background. All three of them had the swells going up in the same direction and their heads were made so big by it that they engulfed the screen. Beyond these personal gripes, though, the episode was bad in every other way conceivable. most of the dialog was completely idle, showing no personality from any of the characters. Nanoha is your average good-girl shoujo lead, but everyone else just seem to be cardboard cutouts which Nanoha can interact with. Things come to a head when the action begins and Nanoha has to transform to defeat a giant plant thing that is rapidly growing overtop of the city, but the enemy is completely nonthreatening, the fight is won in just two moves, and then Nanoha apologizes to nothingness and the credits roll. Driven almost to the point of infuriation at the poor quality of this episode, I immediately dropped the show altogether and hoped I’d never have to think about it again. I wasn’t so lucky, though, as some people I trust told me that around episode seven the show turns around and gets good.
I can safely say that those people were completely wrong about the show getting good, however it does definitely turn around. In episode four we meet the show’s other important character Fate Testarossa who is Nanoha’s opposition for much of the series. In what I’ve been told is consistent mahou shoujo fashion, Nanoha immediately makes it a point that she wants to figure out what’s wrong with Fate and how she can make her into a friend. Episodes four and five, like the three before them, are standard, generic mahou shoujo fair even with Fate in the picture, but in episode six, everything completely changes to the point that you could almost call it a different show altogether.
In complete contrast to the lighthearted nature of the episodes before it, episode six kicks off with some heavy drama and practically re-introduces Nanoha’s friends as decent characters. The sudden tone change came off as a shock to me as a viewer, but episode seven is where things really get weird. Despite the show having, up to this point, taken place entirely in one city, we are suddenly introduced to the Time-Space Administratiors who travel across dimensions on motherfucking White Base. No more than a minute later, we are also taken to a giant floating Island of Doom where in an inner chamber of some huge castle, Fate is chained up and a person who we quickly learn is her mother proceeds to lash her with a whip. Needless to say the show had, at that point, taken off in an entirely different direction.
To summarize the rest of the plot, everything that should have been brought to the viewers attention long ago finally comes to light, making it obvious that the writers hadn’t actually figured out where they wanted to go with the show’s plot until halfway through. A bunch of new characters come into the picture, and then things sort of awkwardly move along without anything really significant going on until episode ten or eleven. After a cliche, unnecessary plot twist revealing the villains motives, the climax finally gets put into action. Without spoiling anything, though, the villain’s motivation end up totally non-threatening and everything comes to one of the most disappointing anti-climaxes I’ve seen in a long time, leaving most of the last episode to resolution.
Seeing as how the series has a definite split between the ‘shitty’ and ‘average’ portions, it is difficult to review. I don’t want to completely disregard to the early portion of the show, but I don’t feel like it’s fair to take it out on the other part of the show. Therefor, everything I am going to say below pertains solely to episodes seven through thirteen, and to summarize my opinion of the first six; it was a shitfest.
Nanoha’s biggest problems are simply it’s lack of scope and direction. When the plot finally emerges we find out that the entire multiverse may or may not be at stake in this struggle, however we aren’t given any reason why. I had pretty much assumed that the villain was planning to use the shards to rule the world or harness some great power, but such things aren’t revealed, and even the Time-Space Administration who explain why the jewel seeds are so dangerous have no idea why someone is opposing their collection of them. As a matter of fact, when they fall under attack by the villain at the end of episode nine, they spend half of the next episode just trying to figure out who the hell attacked them and what their deal is. Even Fate, who is working for the villain, has know idea what the jewel seeds are for, and blindly opposes Nanoha who gladly reciprocates. It is completely silly how Fate refuses Nanoha’s offers to talk things over when she doesn’t even have the first clue as to what the hell Nanoha’s even doing. Eventually, when Fate has collected all the jewel shards, she is discarded by the villain in time to join up with the good guys and hear the explanation of why the villain wanted them in the first place. However, everything that happens after that is completely meaningless. The villains intent was actually harmless, and in the end things go exactly as they would have if the characters had never shown up, which turns out to not be anything dangerous at all. The entire show was completely POINTLESS!
Once again, pointlessness doesn’t have to mean a bad show. There are pointless shows that are a lot of fun, but Nanoha relies entirely on it’s plot, and that doesn’t even fully emerge until the end of episode eleven and has collaped onto itself by the end of episode twelve. I can’t even name another show that fails on that level. With the plot a complete failure, the show as a whole is a failure, as plot is the only thing it had going for it. Most of the characters went completely undeveloped or never once got a chance to shine, and even Fate, who got a decent backstory, is in the end the same person she always was. Nanoha’s two best friends, who were starting to get an active roll in episode six, completely drop off the map until the show’s resolution. Even the one member of the Time-Space Administrotion who actually gets decent screentime spends most of it explaining things and develops only a tiny semblance of personality. Nanoha and her transforming human-ferret friend are both completely generic nice kids who do everything by the cliche book.
Animation wise, this show is downright piss-poor. The magic attacks are all uni-colored giant beams reminiscent of a Kamehameha Wave, and while some of the attacks get to be massive in scope, they never escape from being big beams with magic circles around them. Even Pokemon has better looking attacks than Nanoha. the Fight scenes themselves are always long and boring, usually involving Nanoha wondering why Fate won’t listen to her for five minutes between big-ass laser shots. If nothing else, the transformation sequence is very, very good, but even that stops appearing near the end of the series. The animation did actually peak in episode nine, which looked comparatively nice, however goes right back downhill at the end, and episodes ten and eleven actually feature two of THE worst animated sequences I’ve seen in recent anime. (for those curious, one is where the villain has activated the jewel seeds and they start spinning around, and the other is when Chrono uses an attack that involves red jagged flashes. Both sequences made me burst out laughing.) Akiyuki Shinbo, the aforementioned director, is known for his extremely unique style, however he was given almost no creative freedom on this show whatsoever. There are approximately two animations per episode that showcase his style and a very nice two minutes of episode twelve, but it isn’t even remotely enough to save this show. It’s sad, because Shinbo is well known for making shows that are praised for their art despite featuring as much as NO animation, but without his style, this show’s problems were glaring.
Contrasting the rest of the show, the music actually wasn’t half bad, and completely made certain scenes, however there was one track of these horrendous piano stabs that forced me to lower the volume at times. Besides that one bad mark, though, good music, even if Nanoha’s ungodly voice ruined the show’s audio factor altogether for me.
Overall, my final verdict on this show, (and I realize this is one of the cruelest things I will likely ever say about a show), is that it is the equivalent of one arc of Shakugan no Shana. If one were to trim out all of the parts that were just the writers not knowing that they were doing, you could probably fit the entire story into three or four episodes, and assuming the plot is left unchanged, it would still be uninteresting, poorly made, meander around in circles, fail to entertain, choke on itself, and leave without actually accomplishing anything. At least the resolution had a great pseudo-lesbian scene about as steamy and implying as a whole season of Marimite.
SCORE: 4.5 – bad.